Summary – Free Grace by John Wesley

Rev. John Wesley (1703-1791) uses this verse to articulate his message:

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32.

His intent with his sermon is to offer a counter view to the doctrine of predestination that leads to the election of souls unto salvation. Wesley’s argument is that all men are savable. He refutes the idea they are not and concludes with the idea they are.

Wesley opposes this doctrine of predestination which is that only those predetermined to salvation are saved as preached by fellow evangelist the Rev. George Whitefield and it appears Wesley also refute Article XVII in the 39 Articles a governing document of the Church of England in which he was ordained. Wesley was a High Churchman** in his theology which would lead him against this view of election.

Wesley’s basic argument against predestination is that it eliminates ordinances of God beginning with preaching, holy living, the comfort of religion, zeal for good works and the doctrine of Christian revelation.

II.

Wesley begins by claiming that God freely offers to all men His grace:

“How freely does God love the world! While we were yet sinners, “Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:8) While we were “dead in our sin,” God “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” And how freely with him does he “give us all things!” Verily, FREE GRACE is all in all! The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is FREE IN ALL, and FREE FOR ALL.”

He says, first it is free in all because all that is good in man comes from God thus is His grace free in all men. He then spends time elaborating on the doctrine of election asking the hearer or reader of the sermon if they agree with this doctrine.

It does appear he has Article XVII in mind when he asks these two rhetorical questions of his hearer:

“But methinks I hear one say, ‘This is not the predestination which I hold: I hold only the election of grace. What I believe is not more than this,—that God, before the foundation of the world, did elect a certain number of men to be justified, sanctified, and glorified. Now, all these will be saved, and none else; for the rest of mankind God leaves to themselves: So they follow the imaginations of their own hearts, which are only evil continually, and, waxing worse and worse, are at length justly punished with everlasting destruction.'”

Here Wesley doesn’t use the word reprobation, which means foreordained to damnation to describe the fate of the non elect but he uses the phrase, ‘So they follow the imagination of their own hearts…” Article XVII entitled “Of Predestination and Election” doesn’t contain a doctrine of reprobation but only of election.  Wesley is asking his hearers above who might have in mind Article XVII have they considered they actually do believe in the doctrine of reprobation.

Wesley also asks his audience this question:

“Well, but it may be you do not believe even this; you do not hold any decree of reprobation; you do not think God decrees any man to be damned, not hardens, irresistibly fits him, for damnation; you only say, “God eternally decreed, that all being dead in sin, he would say to some of the dry bones, Live, and to others he would not; that, consequently, these should be made alive, and those abide in death,—these should glorify God by their salvation, and those by their destruction.”

Again Wesley makes the point while his hearers may say they don’t agree with the doctrine of predestination they actually do.

His final sentence before he states this doctrine is wrong is:

“Call it therefore by whatever name you please, election, preterition, predestination, or reprobation, it comes in the end to the same thing. The sense of all is plainly this,—by virtue of an eternal, unchangeable, irresistible decree of God, on part of mankind are infallibly saved, and the rest infallibly damned; it being impossible that any of the former should be damned. or that any of the latter should be saved.”

After this quote Wesley remakes the point that the people actually do believe in predestination; in part he does this to bring their attention to his initial rejection of predestination which begins with this statement:

“But if this [predestination] be so, then is all preaching vain. It is needless to them that are elected; for they, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be saved. Therefore, the end of preaching—to save should—is void with regard to them; and it is useless to them that are not elected, for they cannot possibly be saved: They, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be damned. The end of preaching is therefore void with regard to them likewise; so that in either case our preaching is vain, as you hearing is also vain. This then, is a plain proof that the doctrine of predestination is not a doctrine of God, because it makes void the ordinance of God; and God is not divided against himself.”

His further reasons to reject predestination is:

“A Second is, that it directly tends to destroy that holiness which is the end of all the ordinances of God.”

“Thirdly. This doctrine tends to destroy the comfort of religion, the happiness of Christianity.” Wesley says the so called reprobate can find no hope in the promises of God because they believe they are damned and the elect he says your hope should be in ‘your full assurance of faith” instead of an opinion that you are elected by God.

“Fourthly. This uncomfortable doctrine [of predestination] directly tends to destroy our zeal for good works. And this it does, First, as it naturally tends (according to what was observed before) to destroy our love to the greater part of mankind, namely, the evil and unthankful. For whatever lessens our love, must go far lessen our desire to do them good. This it does, Secondly, as it cuts off one of the strongest motives to all acts of bodily mercy, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and the like,—viz., the hope of saving their souls from death.”

“But, Fifthly, this doctrine not only tends to destroy Christian holiness, happiness, and good works, but hath also a direct and [sixthly] manifest tendency to overthrow the whole Christian Revelation. The point which the wisest of the modern unbelievers most industriously labour to prove, is, that the Christian Revelation is not necessary.” In other words Wesley seems to indicate the whole of the Christian message is negated by the doctrine of predestination which is what the ‘modern unbeliever’ wants anyway.

“Seventhly, it is a doctrine full of blasphemy” partly because it presents Jesus as a hypocrite – He said one thing but mean another.

III.

Wesley begins his argument how predestination is Biblically wrong with his emphasis that the supreme doctrine is “God is love” (  ). And, “The Lord is loving unto every man; and his mercy is over all his works.” (Psalm 145:9) ; “God is no respecter of persons:’ (Acts 10:34); and “There is no respect of persons with him.” (Rom. 2:11.)

These verses counter the apparent argument the predestinarians make by using: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” as implying that God in a literal sense hated Esau, and all the reprobated, from eternity”; “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” (Romans 4:15); “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, (  )”.

Wesley rejects the idea that God is the provocateur but offers salvation to all because He is love. However, Wesley states why men don’t believe: “Not because of any decree of God; but namely, that they will not be saved”.

IV.

Wesley concludes by saying the decree that is eternal by which you understand salvation is:  “Yea, the decree is past; and so it was before the foundation of the world. But what decree? Even this: “I will set before the sons of men ‘life and death, blessing cursing.’ And the soul that chooseth life shall live, as the soul that chooseth death shall die.”

He further states, “This decree whereby ‘whom God did foreknow, he did predestinate,’ was indeed from everlasting; this, whereby all who suffer Christ to make them alive are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God’”.

Therefore, according to Wesley, all who believe are the foreknown elect and they shall be conformed into the image of His Son.


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